World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


Palestinian Women in Palestine and Israel (414) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: FRI, 23 / 9 - 11 am

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: Chair: Marion Boulby (Trent University)

Paper presenter: Marion Boulby (Associate Professor, Trent University Department of History, Canad), “Hamas Women in Local Politics”
This paper, based on field work and oral interviews conducted in the West Bank in the summer of 2008 considers some historical factors which have favored the political emergence of Hamas women and their work towards empowerment in municipal politics. It is argued that factors contributing to their political emergence include the Palestine Authority’s relative lack of commitment to gender issues, the nationalization of Hamas ideology and Hamas women's development of an Islamist feminism which challenges patriarchal boundaries in Palestinian society. An underlying premise of this work is that the role of Hamas women in Palestinian society has been often misunderstood or misconstrued in the light of two factors-first: a tendency to see Hamas as primarily a terror organization and second, a preoccupation with Islamist organizations as essentially misogynistic. Through several case studies this paper looks at the experiences of women taking on the challenges of gender politics in Palestinian municipal government.

Paper presenter: Mukarram Abbas and Nurhan Abujidi (PhD Student / Visiting professor and Academic coordinator of Erasmus Mundus U2, Vrije Universiteit Brussel-Centre for Urban Research COSMOPOLIS - City, Culture & Society, Belgium), “Women's urban constraints in public spaces: The case of Nablus, Palestine”
Since 1980s, Gender discourse started to emerge within urban environment theories, research and debates. Exploring modern urban design via gender discourse enables different perspectives on users -more specifically women- needs, rights and interests. The main core of this paper is to explore Palestinian women’s perspective of such issue, and to question their urban behaviors, and constraints in public spaces. This paper aims at understanding the main constraints that affect the way women in Nablus city- one of the biggest cities in West Bank- use, and appropriate public spaces. Time, space, and social constraints are found to be the major active forces that affect women experiences in such spaces. Women’s responsibilities at home, low safety aspects at night, limited- options public spaces, social assumptions and norms; all of the previous, affect women’s pattern of spatial behavior and practices in Nablus’s public spaces. Generally, women and urban environment is a new topic in Palestine, establishing debates and discussions on this issue will raise women’s awareness about it, enhance and enforce their involvement in any design vision, and will address their rights in enforcing active usage and participation in public spaces as much as men. Furthermore, urban design processes and policies will be more sensitive to address women’s interests and needs within the city, and to provide the right urban solutions that assure women’s active engagement and comfort. Providing a sufficient urban environment for women is not an easy task; women themselves experience the city in different way than each others. The research filed work relies on structured interviews with women from different ages, social, economic and educational backgrounds. The interviews will explore their opinions on the way they use different city districts- neighbourhoods, city center, parks- and how they feel while doing so, along with that, mapping a certain public spaces within the city in different days and times; to measure the intensity of gender space practices and the type of activities performed by the both sexes. Analyzing the field work data which springs from the real inspiration of Nabulsi women’s urban life, leads to the previous three constraints we mentioned earlier. This constraints confines women’s activities in public spaces to the necessary ones, and limits their optional and social activities, saying that, women have more like a passive engagement within the urban environment, and don’t feel comfort and safe, most of the time, inside their own city.

Paper presenter: Sara Ababneh (PhD Student, University of Oxford, UK), “Female Islamists Under Feminist Scrutiny: The Structural Effects of Islamic Political Activism in Occupied Palestine”.
When Dr. Mariam Saleh was appointed Minister for Women's Affairs as part of the Hamas-led Palestinian National Authority government in 2006, there was a huge uproar in the Palestinian women's movement. Many women active in women's rights NGOs saw the appointment of an Islamist as the Minster of Women's Affairs as a contradiction in terms. In this paper I examine the concept of women's empowerment through the debate that ensued in the aftermath of this appointment. Based on over eighty interviews I conducted in the Palestinian occupied territories with Hamas-affiliated Islamic as well as women's rights activists in 2007, this paper studies the underlying assumptions of both the women's movement and female Islamists. I argue that even though the worldviews of both groups are very different, this does not mean that female Islamists 'disempower' women. In light of Chandra Mohanty's work on the relationship between 'Western' and 'third world' feminists, I analyse the debate over the ability of an Islamist to be the Minister of Women's Affairs and the political climate in which it occurred. I argue that what many saw as a clash of ideologies was also a debate between a Westernized, elite which had the backing of many in the international community, and women from rural and refugee backgrounds. The latter were portrayed both by Western media as well as the Palestinian women's movement as brainwashed vehicles for 'fundamentalist' agendas. I question the assumption that it is necessary to have a 'feminist' agenda to empower women and think through what empowerment outside a feminist framework might look like. I argue that we cannot speak about empowerment in terms of a predetermined content and practices. Rather, the particularities and subject positions of those involved need to be taken into consideration. This paper uses postcolonial critique to question not only the claims to universality of feminist and women's rights groups, but also the assumption that 'religion' necessarily disempowers subjects as well as the very meaning of women's empowerment.

Paper presenter: Hilde Granås Kjøstvedt (PhD-student, Chr. Michelsen Institute, Norway), “Palestinian women in Islamic associations”
This paper will be a presentation of my PhD-project in light of recent fieldwork findings (beginning March 2010). My PhD research focuses on women in Islamic civil society organisations in the occupied Palestinian West Bank. In 2006 the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) won the Palestinian parliamentary elections thanks to what is generally held to be an unexpectedly high level of support from the female constituency; as many as 60% of the votes for the Change and Reform List are said to have been cast by women. The bulk of the support allegedly came from women outside the formal labour market and statistical data indicate that since the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000, Islamic movements like Hamas have drawn more than half of its support from housewives. Women, often the only breadwinner in the family, are the main receptors of charitable assistance from Islamic charitable societies. At the same time, the typical image of female Hamas supporters is that of young, self-conscious, ambitious, and outspoken graduate students from the universities of Gaza, Nablus and Ramallah. Like their counterparts in other Middle Eastern countries they demand an active political role and argue that there is room for feminism within the frames of religion. Despite the contradiction pointed out above, there is a tendency in academic research and popular presentations to treat women as if they constitute a homogeneous group sharing the same needs and opinions. Taking the women who participate - as activists and beneficiaries - as a point of departure, this project proposes a more nuanced approach, starting by exploring who these women are and why and how they participate in Islamic civil society organisations. This micro-level starting point will serve as an intake to explore the nature of the social work of Islamic civil society organisations. The outcome will be a study that combines political, social and religious dimensions and contributes towards a holistic understanding of Palestinian society, of women's social and political roles, and also of the potential role of religious social movements in democratisation processes.

Paper presenter: Hanaa Hamdan-Saliba (PhD student, The Department of Geography and Human Environment, Tel Aviv University, Israel), “‘Spaces of Belonging’: Palestinian Women at the Margins of Tel Aviv-Jaffa”
This paper will focus on the ‘Spaces of Belonging’ of Palestinian women in the Margins of Tel Aviv. Furthermore, this paper will examine the spatial practices and tactics employed by three generations of Palestinian women living in Jaffa, which is considered today a neighbourhood in Tel Aviv. It will also examine how these women define and shape their sense of belonging on three spatial levels: the home, the neighbourhood and the city. The city of Jaffa was a socio- economic center for Palestinians until 1948. Since then, however, it has become a poor and marginal neighbourhood in the south of Tel Aviv. In contrast, Tel Aviv has developed and is considered to be in the process of becoming a ‘global city’, which has gone through various structural changes at the social, economic, spatial and political levels, as have other global cities in the world. These Palestinian women experience ‘quadruple marginality’. Firstly, they are marginalized as women. Secondly, as Arab women they live in traditional and patriarchal society that imposes limits on their freedom and mobility. Thirdly, as inhabitants of Jaffa they are located at the margins of Tel Aviv, which is characterized as an Israeli-Jewish, western, Ashkenazi and secular culture. Fourthly, they are citizens of Israel who belong to the Palestinian national minority, subordinated by the Jewish majority in Israel. The analyses of the women’s narratives led to the development of the ‘Spaces of Belonging’. Accordingly, the Palestinian women did not surrender to these power strategies and created tactics and other ways of manoeuvring in and coping with the spaces generated by these strategies of power. Using these tactics, they manipulate oppressive spaces, create feelings of comfort and belonging in them, and build up these feelings. In addition, through these tactics the women expand their practices and freedom of mobility, and appropriate the spaces according to their needs and aspirations. Employing tactics, resistance and ways of manoeuvring, as reactions to strategies and relations of power involving gender, culture, nationality and globalization, the Palestinian women create spaces of belonging, or a ‘lived space’ according to Lefebvre or a ‘Thirdspace’ according to Soja and Bhabha. Accordingly, these tactics or forms of resistance actually lead to the third space, which is a space of possibilities in which it is possible to bring about changes in spatial practices.